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Seven communication skills you need to pay the bills
Communication skills are crucial for entrepreneurs. You need to make your company look attractive for potential investors, customers, and employees. Here are seven areas you should focus on once you’ve mastered a smile and firm handshake.
Listening is one of the most important communication skills, and yet it’s the one many of us struggle with most. It’s not because we’re uninterested in what others have to say—not usually, anyway—but often because something as simple as a buzzing cellphone or a long list of upcoming errands breaks our concentration before we even realize it. Instead of thinking about how you’re going to respond when someone is finished speaking, give them your full attention, and when possible try to verbally recap their points before you respond.
To be able to help your customers, investors, or employees, you need to not only hear them, but to truly listen to them and understand what they require from you. Attentive and active listening can help you pick up on current or potential problems early on, mitigate risks, build relationships, lead a team, resolve conflicts, and negotiate when required.
In 2017, there were around 269 billion emails sent around the world—every day! That number is expected to reach over 333 billion by 2022. Be it via email, reports, letters, blogs, articles, or social media, most business communication is done through writing, and because of that it’s a pretty crucial communication skill to hone. Whether you like it or not, your writing skills (or lack thereof) are going to play a big role in a client’s opinion of you, your abilities, and your business—even if you’re not selling anything related to writing!
This doesn’t mean you need to spend your nights taking writing courses (although we’re never against expanding skills), but it does mean you’re going to want to spend time checking your work for grammatical and informational errors (spell check will only help you with, well, spelling). Beyond editing, well-written, concise content means there are fewer chances for readers to misinterpret your words, and makes your letter, email or report much more likely to be read, shared, replied to or remembered.
Clear, concise and direct communication can be applied to your writing, but it’s especially important when it comes to verbal communication. While most of us probably think we’re amazing speakers (after all, we do it all day, how could we not be?), there is more involved in verbal communication than simply speaking, especially if you want your message to resonate with the person you’re sharing it with.
Entrepreneurship requires wearing many hats, especially in the beginning. You’re required to do a lot in very little time, every day, including leading, inspiring, and motivating the people around you to help you be successful. This is when verbal communication becomes vital. Misunderstandings and conflict are usually the result of poor communication. To avoid unnecessary miscommunication, focus on speaking clearly, choosing your words carefully, using appropriate tones, knowing your audience, and always thinking before you speak.
While it’s hard to learn that people will be judging you and your business by your writing, it’s probably even more concerning to learn that everyone you meet in person will be judging you before you’ve even spoken.
We instinctively judge people by their posture, appearance, handshake and dozens of other signals that are processed unconsciously. But controlling your own body language isn’t all you need to learn; an equally important skill is learning to read non-verbal cues from others. If you want to be able to interpret what clients, vendors, investors or employees are telling you about themselves or what they’re thinking about you, you need to learn to both control your own body language, and read theirs.
Have you ever actually stopped to consider what message your body language is putting out into the world? When you’re trying take command of a room, are you making eye contact? Restraining from fidgeting? Keeping your hands out of your pockets? Small but noticeable things like these may make it difficult to exude confidence and professionalism successfully. While these are some of the basics, there are plenty of books, courses and workshops that will help you learn how to read a situation better and communicate effectively—no words required.
As an entrepreneur, I can bet you couldn’t avoid public speaking or presentations even if you tried. You have to present on stages, in boardrooms, in coffee shops. You have to present proposals to investors, ideas during team meetings, and maybe even research as a keynote speaker at a conference. If you are shy or uncomfortable in these scenarios, running a small business may not be for you. If you know entrepreneurship is something you want to pursue despite your fears of public speaking, it’s time for you to start practicing—and fast.
Some people think they’ll never be comfortable publically speaking, but the truth is, it’s a skill anyone can learn with time and dedication. For starters, you need to practice as much as you can. When you think you’ve practiced enough, practice more. Use every presentation or public speaking engagement as an opportunity to improve your skills and experience. As a good presenter you will sell better, make a bigger impact, and communicate your purpose more clearly. If you want to learn more you can buy books, take courses, and even hire a coach—it will all pay for itself once you’ve become a pro.
Clarity and conciseness
Clarity and conciseness means saying what you mean, and saying just enough—not too much, and not too little. Say what you want clearly and directly, whether you’re speaking to someone in person, on the phone, or via email, and try to say it in as few words as possible.
Rambling or overcomplicating things will cause customers or clients to either tune you out or to be unsure about what you want. Plan your words in advance as much as possible; this will help you to avoid talking excessively and/or being confusing. You don’t need to speak quickly, but you do need to get to the point quickly, and saying less will make it easier to avoid being misunderstood.
As screens get smaller, we have fewer words to get our points across. It’s estimated that people spend as little as eight seconds focused on a single issue. Whether you’re writing an email to your colleague, or preparing for the biggest investor pitch of your life, you need to follow the same structure: Figure out your goal, your key points, and the way you’re going to deliver those points in a sharp and focused way.
Emotional awareness in communication is often overlooked. Although some people may feel that feelings are unprofessional or unwelcome in the workplace, feelings play a big role in communication, even in business. Emotional awareness, or the ability to recognize and understand feelings, will help you succeed when communicating with colleagues, employees, and customers.
Emotionally aware people communicate better; they notice their own emotions and the emotions of others, and try to understand and respect them from all parties. Emotions don’t lie, so sometimes understanding how someone is communicating with you is more important than what’s actually being said. Some key areas to focus on when trying to be emotionally aware are:
- Considering other people’s feelings
- Considering your own feelings
- Practicing empathy
- Recognizing misunderstandings
- Building trusting relationships
- Learning to apologize when necessary
Even when you disagree with an employee, colleague or customer, it’s important for you to understand and respect their point of view. Using phrases as simple as “I understand where you are coming from” demonstrates that you have been listening (remember our first skill?) and respect their opinions.
Communication skills are some of the most powerful skills you can fine tune to advance your business goals and success, but like any other skills, they take patience and time to develop. So be patient with yourself and focus, and soon enough you’ll be the master communicator most of us think we are!